review was written for publication in Swimming World magazine
by Coach Michael Collins.
Coach Art Aungst has written a beautiful and informative
day-by-day chronicle of his girls’ high school swim
team (Orchard Park High School, near Buffalo NY) over
the course of a full season. He shares revealing and touching
anecdotes, specific sets and a rare level of detail on
the methods that helped his team rise to an unprecedented
level of success when he took a risk and changed the focus
of his program from training-based to technique-based.
The book’s 12 chapters correspond to the 12-week
season of a high school team, with sample practices and
sets given in each week. Aungst is always an educator
first and he explains exactly what he hoped to achieve
with each set and what his athletes learned from each.
Aungst, also a Total Immersion workshop director, coaches
his team with a philosophy drawn from his experiences
at TI workshops and summer camps. While TI is best known
for teaching adults to swim more efficient freestyle at
weekend workshops, as Aungst reveals, TI in fact has highly-evolved
teaching progressions for all four strokes, as well as
a philosophy of training which involves doing everything
with purpose and mindfulness instead of sheer sweat. Art
describes how he applied these principles to competitive
high school athletes.
His reasoning for committing wholly to a TI program is
that the brief high school season (about 50 total practice
opportunities) is far too brief to get inexperienced athletes
(many coming to swimming from other sports) "in shape"
through traditional workouts. Instead, he has had success
year-upon-year by using those 12 weeks to focus on winning
races through superior technique. Aungst also describes
a holistic approach to creating an environment for success,
including meetings devoted to reaching team agreement
on what excellence means, concrete exercises in being
supportive of teammates, goal setting, and frequent underwater
His relentless focus on positive reinforcement combined
with individual responsibility to honor commitments gave
his swimmers an environment where they did not feel threatened
or pressured to perform. They were able to learn and develop
their skills in a safe and supported place, both by the
coach, and teammates. The results were remarkable. His
team has consistently finished in the top 3 at the NY
State Championships using mostly seasonal swimmers and
just a handful of year-round swimmers. Since switching
to the TI program in 1997, Aungst’s girls have not
finished lower than 2nd in 18 State Championship relays,
often setting records with softball and soccer players
contributing crucial relay legs.
It would be easier to say who this book would not interest,
than to choose those for whom it will be a valuable acquisition.
Most obviously, it should be considered required reading
by any high school coach, but also any coach
who runs a short season team — including collegiate
programs — and especially summer league programs.
Any novice coach will accelerate their learning curve
significantly by observing a seasoned and successful coach
through a season-long journey. And experienced coaches
will find countless ideas on how to freshen their approach
and improve rapport with their athletes. Art not only
tells how he made practice a place that swimmers enjoy
coming to – he also explains learn how to teach
essential skills like racing stroke rates. Finally, any
swim parent will find this book enlightening on how sports
experiences can be made to yield priceless life lessons.
Art has a rare quality of offering practical wisdom while
being enormously entertaining – both funny and insightful
at the same time. Never saying, "this is how you
should do it," he simply shares what he has learned
about becoming a more effective coach through understanding
and education rather than coercion. He found that by giving
more responsibility and opportunity for input to the athletes
he has gained greater respect and acceptance from them.
I highly recommend this book!
Michael Collins is the Masters Coach for Irvine Novaquatics
and the USMS
Coaches Committee Chairman.
Additionally he is the product reviewer for Sports Publications
Swimming World, Swimming Technique & Swim Magazine.
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